Connecting with Faculty
Connecting with faculty is one of the best parts of being a Stanford student! Your professors, lecturers, and instructors are interesting people who do fascinating and important work, and getting to know them is a great way to engage with our intellectual community.
You can also view a program about Networking with Faculty from February 2021
Find Faculty Who Share Your Interests
Search the Course Catalog
One of the easiest ways to find faculty who work in a particular field is to use ExploreCourses. Enter some keywords into the search bar and see what classes come up. Take note of who teaches those classes, and what departments they teach in (including in the graduate/professional schools).
Browse Faculty Profiles
Department websites will often have a People or Faculty link somewhere that will usually have a little paragraph about each professor’s research and publications or a link to the professor's own site. You can also view relevant information on the Stanford Profiles website. Finally, the list of Research Centers at Stanford may help you find faculty who are not teaching or not attached to a department.
Read the Stanford News
The Stanford Report and The Dish both cover research and professional activity on campus, as does the Stanford Alumni Magazine. Searching for topics that interest you can help you both identify faculty and give you good background information and questions to ask.
Attend Talks and Lectures
Stanford faculty often give talks on their current research, or commenting on contemporary events in the field. These open talks are advertised on department mailing lists or on flyers posted around campus. If you see something that interests you…go! As an engaged audience member, you can ask questions or approach the speaker after the lecture to follow up. If you are really interested, ask if that professor has office hours that you can attend in order to continue the conversation.
Do Some Background Research
Once you have a shortlist of faculty you want to know more about, spend some time gathering more information about what they do. Have they given any talks recently? And if so, what was the topic? What classes have they taught recently? If the professor works for a lab, what accomplishments does the lab publicize on their website? What articles or books has the professor published?
See if you can skim through an article or the first chapter of a book that professor has written. This can give you a better sense both of what this professor works on specifically, and whether it’s something that interests you. Plus, this gives you some great material to talk about if you end up meeting with the professor. Even if you don’t quite understand their research, this can be a great way to ask questions and get the conversation moving!
Reach Out to Faculty Over Email
Once you find a faculty member who works on something you're interested in, it's time to make contact! When you email a faculty member for the first time, your goal should be to set up a time to meet and talk. Make sure to tailor your email to that particular individual and mention why you're contacting them specifically. Keep your email short, polite, and to the point. For example:
Dear Professor So-and-So,
I’m Jane, a prospective X major particularly interested in Y. I am writing you because I noticed that you teach classes in Y/ I read your paper on Y/ the Student Services Officer in your department suggested I reach out to you. I would love to get your advice on how I can get involved with research on Y during my time at Stanford. Could I come by your office hours? And if so, when are they?
If the professor doesn’t respond, don’t lose hope! The professor might be particularly busy that week, or out of town, or simply missed your message in a flood of other emails. Try to reach out again after at least one week has passed. You can send a follow up email, or you can stop by during the professor’s office hours to introduce yourself and ask if you can set up a time to meet later.
What Are Office Hours?
Nearly all Stanford faculty members hold office hours, a block of time set aside specifically for meeting with and talking to students. Attending office hours can be one of the best ways to get to know your professors, lecturers, and instructors. You don't necessarily have to be in that person's class to visit their office hours. If you happen to be a current or former student, professors are often quite pleased by a visit. But even if you've never taken a class with that person, it's common for office hours to be open to all students.
When Are Office Hours?
If you're currently in a class with this instructor, their office hours are usually listed on the course syllabus. Even if you aren’t in the class, you might be able to view the syllabus through the syllabus archive. A few departments publish office hours on the website as part of their Faculty Profiles (such as Art & Art History and English). Professors might have office hours posted on their office door if you go by the office, or if you ask in the department they might be able to tell you. But sometimes email is your only option, especially if they aren’t teaching that quarter.
Note that some faculty members use appointments, some just do drop-ins, and some do a mix. Generally, whether you are in the class or not, whether you have an appointment or not, it’s safe to show up at office hours and say something like “Hi, I’m a sophomore here and I’m really interested in X. I saw you had office hours--is this a good time or can we schedule an appointment for later?” Obviously, have your calendar handy for this one (and be sure to get to the appointment! Faculty do not like no-shows and canceling at short notice isn't great either).
Things To Talk About
Once you make it to office hours, be sure to ask questions. Some conversation-starters might include:
- What sort of research do you do? How did you become interested in this field?
- What other possibilities did you study when you were in school?
- What do you wish you’d known when you were an undergrad?
- What do you think is the most interesting problem or challenge in the field today?
- What is your favorite part of your teaching or research?
- I read this article that connects to what we were talking about in class the other day--what do you think of it?
- The other day you mentioned something in class but said we don't have time to get into it now. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
- I read this article you wrote and I was wondering...
- If I want to learn more, what are some readings you would recommend?
At the end of each conversation you have, be sure to ask, “is there anyone else I should be talking to?” Experts know other experts, and this can be a great way to expand your network.
Finally, remember to cultivate the connections you make by following up and keeping in touch!